One of the most difficult parts of making a Thanksgiving meal is the turkey, because who ever roasts something that large at any other time of the year? Even just preparing the turkey is a hassle – that is, if you use a wet brine, where you have to deal with a huge vessel full of liquid and a turkey (a garbage bag, say), and then you lose flavor anyway. So why not try a dry brine, courtesy of Adrianna Adarme at PBS Food? It's both easier to manage and more effective, and the citrus is a nice, bright note in a heavy Thanksgiving meal. Want to make a gravy from the pan drippings? Try this recipe.
Citrus Dry-Brined Turkey
You'll need to prep the turkey at least a day before cooking, and thaw it a day or two before that, depending on your method (see step 1). The day of roasting you need about 4½ hours: 1 to let it dry, around 3 to roast, and ½ hour to let it rest. If making a gravy, you can do that while the turkey roasts and rests.
Make sure you have plenty of space in your fridge, as you'll need to keep the turkey in there with the brine for at least 24 hours. You'll also need a brining bag, a food processor or mortar and pestle, and a roasting pan with a wire rack.
13-pound turkey, thawed (see step 1 for instructions on how to de-thaw)
2½ tablespoons fine-grain sea salt (kosher works great, too)
1 (5-inch) sprig rosemary, leaves removed and minced, plus a few more sprigs for roasting
2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and minced, plus a few more sprigs for roasting
2 sage leaves, minced, plus a few more leaves for roasting
1 lemon, skin zested and lemon cut into wedges
½ navel orange, skin zested and orange cut into wedges
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1. To thaw the turkey, either transfer to the fridge for two days or place the wrapped turkey in a large pot and fill with cold to lukewarm water. When the water turns ice cold, dump out and refill. Keep doing this until it is mostly de-thawed (about 6 hours). Transfer to the fridge overnight and by morning it will be completely ready to be brined.
2. In a mortar and pestle or a food processor, add the salt, minced rosemary, minced thyme, minced sage leaves, zest from the lemon and from the half orange, bay leaf, and ground coriander. Twist and grind and twist and grind again until the mixture resembles a coarse rub. (If you’re using a food processor, pulse it a few times until it’s all mixed together.)
3. To prep the turkey, remove the gizzards and neck bone, put them in a new plastic bag, and place them in the fridge if using for gravy, or discard. Pat the turkey dry with a bed of clean paper towels.
4. Transfer the turkey to the center of the brining bag. Roll down the sides of the bag; this will make it easier to get in there and rub the turkey. Flip the turkey over, breast-side down, and rub half of the dry-brine mixture all over the backside. Flip it over, breast-side up, and rub the remaining mixture all over, being sure to rub some in the cavity of the turkey. Wash your hands and then press the sides of the bag, releasing any air that’s in the bag, and seal it. You want an airless bag. Roll the bag over the turkey and transfer to the fridge, so the bird is sitting breast-side up. Allow to brine for at least 24 hours.
5. After at least 24 hours, remove the turkey from the brining bag and transfer to a cooking rack set inside of a roasting pan. Pat dry to remove any moisture from the turkey; let stand for one hour to allow it come to room temperature. (While the turkey is drying, moisture will drip into the roasting pan and that’s great!)
6. At the 45-minute mark, preheat your oven to 425 degrees F. Pat the turkey dry one last time. Add a few extra sprigs of rosemary, thyme and sage to the turkey's cavity, along with the reserved wedges of lemon and orange.
7. Flip the turkey, breast-side down. Place in the oven to brown for 30 minutes.
8. Flip the turkey over so it's breast-side up. Reduce the oven’s temperature to 350 degrees F. Cook for an additional 2½ hours, until the internal temperature of the bird (inserted into the thickest part of the thigh) reads 165 degrees F. Be sure to check on it periodically. (I gave it a peek every 45 minutes or so.) If the bird begins to brown too much, turn the heat down to 300 degrees F and don’t be afraid to tent it with a loose piece of foil. (Note: A “loose” piece of foil is important because you don’t want to steam the turkey!) If making a gravy, you can start making the broth around 1½ hours into roasting the turkey.
9. When the turkey is done, carefully remove it from the roasting pan and transfer to a cutting board to rest for 30 minutes before slicing it. This is a great time to use the pan drippings to finish your gravy. Carve the turkey and serve.